|Hanging out at McDonald's in Wangfujing|
Following Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain, a message that was posted on a website called Boxun which is based in the United States encouraged people to come out as a protest against the Chinese government.
While people were invited to come around 11am, the crowds started to grow in the early afternoon in front of the McDonald's at Beijing's Wangfujing, a busy shopping district. There were apparently some 200 to 300 people by around 2pm despite heavy police presence.
At one point someone scattered white flowers (perhaps meant to be jasmine) on the ground and one man picked one of them up and was about to use his mobile phone when he was taken away by police.
"Why are you arresting me?" he protested loudly for everyone to hear. "I'm just here to do some shopping."
Witnesses say it took a few hours for the police to finally herd people a distance from the fast food restaurant and by late afternoon most people had dispersed.
There are reports more than 20 cities, including Tianjin, Chengdu and Guangzhou stepped up security measures, and universities in Shaanxi and Jiangsu were ordered to shut their gates to prevent students from leaving the campuses.
China Human Rights Defenders said at least 70 to 80 people were detained across the country, including lawyers and activists. They were either put under house arrest, detained in police stations or forced out of their homes. One Guangzhou-based lawyer was even beaten up by thugs.
Despite the large-scale exercise that was promptly snuffed out, some people were optimistic by the turnout.
"I see hope today as there are so many young people here," said a 37-year-old teacher in Beijing who declined to give his name. But he said he didn't think the pro-democracy protests in the Middle East would spread to China.
Beijinger Xu Chongyang, 54, who stood in front of McDonald's for three hours was surprised by the number of people who showed up. He believed it was a wake-up call for the government to address the country's rising social problems.
In Shanghai, people gathered at the Peace Cinema near the People's Square and at least three were taken by the police. A man started giving a speech but left when the police came.
One man who was there told reporters: "I am here to demand that they end the one-party rule as soon as possible... so they won't be able to carry out arbitrary arrests any more."
In Guangzhou the police presence of some 500 and 30 police vehicles intimidated people from meeting at the People's Park. A student was disappointed by the lack of support.
"There are myriad social problems. We should let the leadership know," he said.
Meanwhile it was impossible for people to send text messages to more than one person at once and internet connections were spotty at various times.
For many, this was just the dress rehearsal. It was interesting to see the response from both the people and the police.
A former colleague of mine in Beijing fears the event will impose even greater restrictions on internet users and possibly shut down more websites.
However, with greater advances in technology day by day, there is no doubt people will find a more clandestine way to be organized. If the Falun Gong were able to freak out Chinese officials by showing up en masse at Zhongnanhai on April 25, 1999, surely with today's technology passionate Chinese who want a better China will find a way to make their protest seen and heard -- together.